HUMPHREY — The team from Humphrey made a few last-minute adjustments.
Bolts were tightened and a piece of plastic was filed down before the high school students felt the robot they created worked well enough for the competition.
It turned out the modifications weren’t enough as Alec Preister used a remote control to move the metal robot during a Saturday robotics scrimmage. The robot only made it a few feet before coming to a halt on the Humphrey Public High School gymnasium floor.
It was back to the drawing board to pinpoint the glitches that prevented the robot from moving like the students hoped.
Problem solving, though, is a regular part of FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), as are teamwork and math and science skills.
FTC is a robotics competition for high school students that's just getting its footing in Nebraska, particularly in this area.
“The kids have so much fun with it. They learn a ton,” Michelle Preister said. “There are always a lot of opportunities to play athletics and not so much for other activities. This is something where they can still compete and have a team experience.”
Preister is a coach for a newly formed robotics team in Humphrey. She helped get the program started in the area after two of her children, including Alec Preister, worked with a robotics team in Aurora.
There are only a dozen FTC teams in the state, and six were showcased in Humphrey for the competition. The youths were from South Sioux City, Blair, Aurora, Broken Bow and Humphrey.
FTC, which is geared toward youths in grades 7-12, teaches students multiple skills as they work together to build a robot.
“This is an opportunity for them to learn more about what they want to do as a career. This is the beginning steps. The program really teaches people the engineering process,” said Brandy Wagner, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension 4-H science coordinator.
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The Extension is a supporter of FTC and FIRST Lego League (FLL), a robotics program for younger children.
In particular, the skills are centered on science, technology, engineering and math. There is also some business known-how involved as youths raise funds to help pay for the cost of parts and motors, Wagner said.
The Humphrey team is made up of six people, most of whom attend Humphrey Public, like Kaydie Brandl.
The sophomore said she initially joined the group because of her friend, but now finds the program fun because she likes working with her hands.
“I love building the robot. I’m not good at the programming stuff, but anything with my hands I can figure out really well,” Brandl said.
Teams create robots from kits to meet certain criteria and size restrictions. It takes a lot of trial and error to get results. That is part of the fun for some.
“I like the challenge. Not everything works the first time. You have to work at it,” said Nathan Goering, a senior at Humphrey Public.
The robots are used in competitions where teams go up against others. Winners can move on to state, regional and world events.
Alec Preister, who is a junior and home schooled, worked with the Aurora team for about five years before joining the one in Humphrey. Being involved in the program has led him to want to have a career in mechanical engineering.
Getting youths interested in those type of careers, and encouraging them to pursue that kind of employment in the state, are goals of the program, Wagner said.
“We want these kids to stay in Nebraska to become computer programmers, to become engineers. We want to keep them here,” she said.